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Don’t Overlook Grammar in Business Writing

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Publishers have made a fortune selling books about business writing. Likewise those who offer workshops, seminars and semester-long courses on the subject. There are countless webinars, e-courses, and simple blogs that profess to be the ultimate arbiter of proper business writing. Many are just repeating the same information while some claim to have found the one and only, surefire, best method for unlocking the secrets of successfully writing business documents — from emails to memos to handbooks and mission statements.

This post is NOT one of those.

The fact is that learning the accepted formats and formulas for business writing is only half the battle. Everyone from the CEO to the receptionist needs to have a solid grasp of basic grammar and usage before they attempt to master any type of writing, especially the sometimes verbose and self-referential styles prevalent in business correspondence.

bad writing

Basic Rules

To be an effective business writer, first master the basic rules writing. This includes understanding the elements of grammar: parts of speech, subject-verb agreement, pronoun usage, and the different cases.

It is also important to understand the basic rules of punctuation and spelling. This includes being able to tell when to use a semi-colon versus a colon and memorizing the most commonly misspelled words.

Usage

This can be a problematic area for many people. In fact, a majority of errors fall into this category. As such, business writers should make sure that the fully understand when and how to use the following:

    who/whom (and whoever/whomever)
    that/which/who
    affect/effect
    accept/except
    amount/number
    adviser/advisor
    there/their/they’re
    your/you’re
    its/its
    later/latter
    personal/personnel
    within/among

There are hundreds of usage, punctuation, and grammar rules to master. Doing so will ensure that the vital email asking for an extension or extra funding won’t be misunderstood by the boss. Worse yet, a memo full of grammatical mistakes can make the writer appear incompetent and, therefore, not worthy of additional responsibility or promotion.

Georgia Lewellyn is a business coach and corporate instructor. She has also worked with educators to help develop lesson plans for ESL students (see: http://www.lessonplanet.com/article/esl/to-whom-it-may-concern). Her articles on business communication, public speaking, and presentation skills have been published on the leading business sites and blogs.

The Business of Auto Racing

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Auto racing, like any professional sport, is not solely about the game. While fans enjoy watching them race around a track at hundreds of miles per hour, there are many financial factors that also make it a business. It’s what is necessary for keeping the sport running and growing and viable in the future.

Fans are the number one contributors to the business. Buying tickets and merchandise, attending races and events all provide funds to the racing entities like NASCAR and Formula 1. This provides the means for them to advertise the sport and attract new fans and sponsors. The more popular the race or event and the more fans that attend will also attract sponsors, which are essential financial factors in auto racing.

race carsTeam ownership, for any sport, is expensive. Owning an auto racing team can cost into the millions of dollars—entrance fees for races, car maintenance, and driver’s salary just to name a few. This is where sponsorship comes in. Companies will pay a lot of money, and even more for big-name winning drivers, to put their company name and logo on the car and the driver. They are even able to sponsor the races such as the Subway Fresh Fit 500 NASCAR race. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship as sponsor companies are able to get their names out to a wider audience and drivers are able to have the funds necessary to compete in the sport they love.

Auto racing is a fast growing sport. As drivers likeDale Earnhardt Jr. become household names more and more people realize the excitement that is auto racing. There is a thrill and adventure that comes with it that you can’t find in many other sports. As a business they are constantly determining new ways of bringing in revenue and adjusting their business model to stay relevant into the future.

What the Mission Statement is For

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Starting a business can be a difficult task, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Like setting sail on the ocean for the first time, when the land recedes into the horizon, any big adventure is marked by a combination of excitement and uncertainty. Yet there are ways to make the going easier, and any adventure needs to have vision and organization at the outset in order for it to be truly successful. If there is one central element of planning necessary for business, it most certainly is a business plan. And if there is a central element to the business plan, it’s the mission statement. The mission statement is the most clear and concise way of phrasing exactly what it is the business is for, what it’s setting out to do, and what the owners represent. It’s not something that initial lenders for the start up, such as Money Mutual, would look at necessarily, but it will be something shareholders will refer to often down the road.

Fortunately for today’s entrepreneur, the mysterious business plan is not so mysterious any longer. There are plenty of resources available on the web, at bookstores, and in libraries, that can make the process very transparent. The business plan is a document that investors will look at, and one that the owners will refer to repeatedly. Like any plan, then, it’s one that is subject to change, just as maps often change in the course of an adventure. But its essential goals and objectives should stay the same, and that means vision. Of course, the market analyses and projections are important components, but these are going to shift in the course of things. The mission statement, on the other hand, isn’t subject to the same laws of chance. Although the market might change, the reasons for running the business should remain unaltered.

In terms of planning, then, the mission statement really should be seen as something very much like the actual ship that carries the passengers. A good mission statement will keep the business sailing, because it contains the reasons for setting out in the first place. Doubtless, there needs to be some time and consideration for how the voyage can begin, and looking at loan advertising and acquaintances for start up funds are necessary, and they will need to be in the picture early on, but the vision has to be at the forefront. Learning how to articulate one’s ideas in a concise form is valuable for every aspect of the journey.

Roger Young is a former CEO who advises small businesses on topics like organizational structure and customer management and has written on more specialized topics like Travel Lead Management, Effective Team Building, and Project Management Tools.

Consumer Affairs and Watchdog Groups

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In the literal sense, a watchdog is there to guard a human being and/or their property. Watchdog groups do the same thing. They offer protection against a variety of actions that will harm a person and/or their property and their rights as consumers. There are many groups that are found in many ways, through online organizations or community resources. A watchdog group is even easy to find on Facebook .

Some watchdog groups are global, as in the case with the ACLU or the ASPCA, and other are local. Sometimes they monitor a variety of issues, and sometimes it may be that they are keeping an eye on one specific issue or target. They act and react similar to the way a junkyard watchdog does. Sometimes they just bark, to alert or to alarm one to the problem or intrusion at hand. Sometimes they will walk to the fence so to speak, to attempt to dissuade further invasion. And other times, should the intruder “jump the fence” the watchdog groups will tackle invasions head on in the form of the taking it to the press, or in some instances…taking a party or company to court and the pursuance of law suits.

Testimonials can be found about how watchdog organizations have protected them from being taken advantage of, from being swindled in health care issues to economic security, the attacks on the environment and to an over sense of well being and issues relating to the general quality of life for individuals and communities. Watchdog
groups are there to keep an eye on businesses or other entities, or in some cases individuals. They alert the public when something either has gone awry, or appears to be heading in that direction in the future.

They act as advocates for the community and for specific individuals in their times of need, when they have been harmed or taken advantage of. The government is not above the eye of certain watchdog organizations, just as the corner tire company is not above their eyes. Greenpeace and Amnesty International are two such groups, that have protected the environment and the rights of people everywhere for many years.

But watchdogs do not have to have large organizations behind them. Local people living in small towns, attend town meetings and they pay attentions to things other people either do not notice, or do not have the time to attend to. Subjects of their observation include everything from the kinds of food served in public schools, to the pesticides sprayed on local farms to discrimination or harassment in the workplace. This is becoming a ‘do it yourself’ nation. Citizens are realizing that in order to protect their health and their rights, they must stand up for themselves and for the people in the community. Sometimes the larger watchdog organizations may be there to protect them in their consumer and personal affairs. But more often than not, people are left to fend for themselves and for those whom they love. And in the news each night, there are stories of people doing just that.

How Companies Are Helping Their Employees Stay Healthy

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Employers have begun to see the importance of having healthy employees in their company. To this end, they are designing programs that will contribute to employee health and wellness. They recognize that the benefits far outweigh the costs and the see it as a return on their investment.

Why It Matters

Businesses with healthy employees are healthier organizations. They have learned that healthy employees contribute to their success. How? Here are some important ways.

  1. Healthy employees are more alert and can be more productive. In addition to getting more work accomplished, they also make fewer mistakes and have better concentration.
  2. Employees who do not get sick as often do not call in and miss work, resulting in less lost time of productivity for the employer.
  3. Caring for your employees’ health translates into a better company image within the community. People view your organization as a great place to work and customers like to support a business that takes care of its employees.
  4. There is less turnover in the company because the employees feel appreciated with the programs that are established.

Employee Wellness Programs

Employers have created or participated in several programs designed to help their employees healthier. Here are a few examples of how they contribute to their employees’ improved physical health.

  • Employers may provide a fitness center at work and allow employees to use it either during their lunch or at other appointed times.
  • They may also pay for a membership at a local gym.
  • Employers may also offer rewards for employees who quit smoking.
  • They may also provide free health screenings onsite where employees can learn their health risks and potential problems.
  • Employees may be encouraged to participate in weight loss programs with company-wide competitions.
  • Employers may offer financial compensation for following through on various healthy habits from stopping smoking to losing weight.
  • Employers may form sports leagues to encourage staff to join for exercise.
  • Instead of vending machines with soda and junk food, employers purchase healthy snacks that do not cost their employees.
  • They bring in outside speakers to talk to staff about healthy habits, nutrition, and the use of things like vitamins and supplements, and encourage them to make better choices.
  • They pay for counseling for any employee issues that can detract from their health and cause them to miss work.

By creating an environment that promotes health and rewards a healthy lifestyle, employers will be rewarded with more productive employees. The strategies they incorporate to encourage healthy living will only be the beginning as co-workers encourage each other to join challenges and groups to further develop the healthy lifestyle.

As more and more employers see the benefits of having healthy employees on their staff, they will continue to add new ideas to incorporate into their organization. Employees will also start to care more about their habits and will enjoy working for a concerned employer. A healthy employee makes for a happy employer and both of them benefit. This makes wellness programs a win-win situation for everyone.

Civil Society Revisited

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The notion of civil society is one that comes around cyclically, entering into the public discourse at key times, and then leaving once it has established itself in terms of definitions and frameworks. Interestingly, it is one of those notions whose definitions shift considerably each time, suggesting that it is rather fluid, almost like the notion of society shifts over time. For most definitions, there is a sense that it is a sense of public obligation, and a certain commitment to public and social institutions, and particularly those that lie outside of the realms of business or government.

In fact, it is usually quite explicit in most definitions that civil society must necessarily lie beyond the scope of government and business. This suggests that it is something whose definition is better produced through negative relief, from what it is certainly not rather than what it certainly is. It’s rather difficult to find definitions that do encompass what it certainly is, because the notion of civil is something that changes perhaps more than society. Or better, it is entirely dependent on the social structures that decide what civil actually means for a particular time and place. Generally, it refers to those behaviors that make public life possible without limiting anyone’s liberties. Its particular definitions are often drawn into question when there are significant cultural shifts underway, and when the public is questioning what it means to be a citizen.

This means, then, that a decision to transform a row of buildings on a busy public street by decorating their windowsills with vinyl vertical blinds can be an issue for civil society. This is particularly true if the window dressings are chosen in order to present the town to itself in a positive and pleasing light, adding touches of charm in order to make the public atmosphere more endearing to its citizenry. By the same token, a decision to transform public buildings with window blinds in order to cut down on heating costs is a matter that lies outside of the interests of civil society.

In that sense, it becomes a little clearer that these definitions are largely circumstantial. Although that may be a little surprising, it is entirely consistent with the nature of public life in general. Notions and definitions are never comfortable living in absolute realms for very long, especially when it comes to public discourse, and they necessarily depend on instances and examples in order to reach a deeper level of the collective consciousness. In this respect, then, civil society is a notion that is always on the verge of becoming, like a view through a window blind on a particularly sunny morning.

How to Become a Financial Genius!

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Financial wealth is a dream shared by many. How else to explain the billions of dollars spent on lottery tickets every year? Instead of leaving financial success to luck, some people prefer to earn their money through work, investments, and the occasional stock market gamble. While there is no 100% guarantee of high returns on every financial risk, it is possible to become a financial genius who is capable of recognizing and reducing risk and avoiding financial disaster.

Study the Basics
There are countless classes, books, and webinars offering to teach various methods of getting rich. These should be avoided. A genius may have an inborn talent for money and figures, but they still take the time to master the basics: math, economic theory, financial markets, and how various investments work. They also spend time learning the legal regulations associated with financial transactions.

Find a Mentor
Mentorship is underrated in many fields and most people mistakenly see a genius as a solitary figure. In fact, most geniuses in any field usually have one person they look up to and go to for advice. This is usually someone who has achieved a level of success but has also experienced failures. Both failure and success provide lessons that a mentor can pass on to the budding genius.

Take Calculated Risks
Eventually a genius is going to have to put their knowledge and theories to the test. This means actually investing in companies, stocks, futures, etc. Make sure that the risks associated with the investment have been carefully calculated and that steps are taken to further reduce the risks. An acceptance of the risk means understanding that the investment may fail to produce the expected profits or it may fail all together. Being comfortable with risk and being willing to accept the consequences are key character traits of a financial genius.

Never Stop Learning
Financial markets are constantly changing. New opportunities, technologies, and even entire industries are being developed all the time. Regulations are constantly changing, expanding, or even being eliminated. Economists develop new theories and interest rates and bank policies change. A true financial genius keeps up on all of this and still finds time to monitor what their competitors and cohorts are doing with their money.

Learning from their own actions is perhaps the most important part of being a genius. Einstein’s theories were not built out of thin air. They were built on top of previous theories and experiments, some failures and some successes, that increased the physicist’s overall understanding of his field and his ability to succeed within it. Taking financial risks, making new investments, and learning from those experiences are the keys to proving one’s financial genius.

The MotorSport Business

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It really is no secret that it takes a lot of money to race cars. Between learning how to drive, buying and modifying a car, and purchasing consumables like tires and fuel, you could spend upwards of $10,000, just to have something that you can take to a local track day. Imagine, then, how much it all costs for racing teams that run two cars, built by dedicated mechanics, designed by internal R&D teams, and driven by highly paid professionals. Yes, it’s expensive, but on the other side of the coin is the tremendous amount of money for the teams and individual racers that make it to the top.

NASCAR and Formula 1, arguably the two biggest series’ in the world, are powered by sponsorships. Companies pay race teams to place logos, phrases, or other advertisements on a car. Caterham F1, formerly the Lotus team, sports livery for AirAsia, and is also sponsored by CNN, General Electric, and Airbus. Meanwhile, Stewart-Haas Racing sports three cars for NASCAR, sponsored by Go Daddy, Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1, and Quicken Loans/Haas Automation, respectively. For those wondering, Danica Patrick drives the Go Daddy car. Sponsors, nor teams, are quick to share exactly how much money changes hands, but it goes a long way towards running a competitive car.

race track concessionsThe other major source of funding for teams are the purses they win, which are paid by the racing body, be it F1, NASCAR, or 24 Hours of LeMans (an endurance race for cars under $500—the purse is $1,500 in nickles). Usually it’s based on points, but it can also be calculated by finishing place. Again, the exact amounts, at least for this year, aren’t exactly widely known, but they are significant sums. The only downside is that up to 65% of the purses are taken by track owners, because, well, tracks are expensive to maintain and secure.

But that isn’t all! Racing leagues still try to turn a profit, and they do that by collecting entry fees, fining drivers, and selling broadcast rights and advertisement deals to various networks and companies. Sure, it’s a racket, but between the racing bodies, teams, drivers, sponsors, and fans, the the pistons keep moving and the races keep running, so what more could one ask?

New Companies Have To Put Customers First

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Customers are the most important part of a business. If there are no customers then there will be no business. However when it comes to a new business, customers hold even more importance then they do in companies that have already been working for years.

Importance of Customers

When you start a business, the basic question that that you ask yourself is how you are going to attract customers to buy your product. Being a new company you do not have any old history or record that will make people recommend you. You are starting from the scratch and you need to develop your business by gaining as many customers as you can. Old companies already have a name and image in the market known as goodwill while new companies have to develop this goodwill through various strategies to achieve customers.

Strategies to Attract Customers

Place is an important market mapping tool that must be taken into account. One should position its unique selling point in a manner such that the target market is easily attracted. Customer database should be maintained so that news and feedback can be generated at ease. In the initial phase the company could offer schemes such as the first hundred customers will get discounts when they come back. This will make the customers come back and once they start using the product frequently they’ll turn into loyal customers.

shopper with bagsCompanies have to identify niches in the market so that they can exploit the segment successfully. They would thus have to identify an attribute of the product that is required by the customers but not currently offered by existing companies in the market. The unique feature of the product such as low price or superior quality would itself attract customers and result in generation of revenue.

Importance of Efficient Customer Service

Dealing with customer complaints is an important part of business process and new companies have to make sure that any complaints of the business are immediately dealt and rectification is done. This is because a new company needs to build its reputation and this can only be done if customer service is highly efficient. This would not only result in the customer to praise the product or the service but would also result in marketing through word of mouth when the customer communicates about the company to friends and family. The customer is also likely to become a frequent purchaser if the service is of extremely high quality.

Christopher Clark is a retired CEO who teaches classes on customer management. He also contributes to a number of blogs and websites like this on topics such as customer relation management and business software.

Is the Auto Repair Business Still Booming?

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The car is a constant of the American landscape and lifestyle. Regardless of the changes that affect society the car remains a necessity of daily life. As a result of the fixation of cars, auto repair has evolved in parallel to the car. Though many people might think that the 2008 recession hit the auto repair industry, there are other factors that have influenced it much more than recession.

Auto repair is an inescapable fact of life. The only thing that predicts how business will do are conditions and 2012 saw some of the mildest weather in the past hundred years. This means that one of the main factors for the auto repair business is uncontrollable and external. About 24% of all car accidents are linked to snow, ice, rain or sleet. When winter is mild and dry, the number of car accidents automatically reduces as a result.

DIYers Take on Auto Repair

Since the 2008 crash, more people have elected to do some maintenance work on their own. Things like oil changes and checking fluids like engine coolant and brake fluid are easily accomplished. Major technical repairs are usually done by auto repair services, so there hasn’t been too much loss — and repair shops can make a bit of money selling diy auto repair manuals. The small routine maintenance work doesn’t really bring in the money for auto repair. It’s more a matter of bodywork or overhauling a car that’s been damaged in a crash. This is why weather plays one of the largest factors in auto repair businesses.

auto shopOpening an Auto Repair Shop in 2013

Because the auto repair business has had less business in the past mild winter, its difficult to say if it will rebound. Those looking into beginning an auto repair shop, might do best in repairing hybrids and focusing on a new breed of engines and cars that run differently than older models.

Assessing the market and need for an auto repair shop in a specific area is also a good idea. If there are several businesses operating, it will be difficult to find a foothold unless the business is willing to directly undercut competitor’s prices. This might create some bad blood between businesses and customers may not even trust the business if prices are too low.